Saint Sabina’s 5th ‘Operation Hope’ Feeds 2,400 – Breaks Last Year’s Record

But fight for justice continues

By Chinta Strausberg

With well-trained and disciplined volunteers and staff,  Saint Sabina’s fifth annual ‘Operation Hope’ feeding program held late Tuesday was declared a huge success having fed 2,400 people breaking last year’s record, but it was also a venue for Father Michael L. Pfleger to urge the nation’s youth to continue their fight for social justice.

Once again, in the spirit of Christmas,it was yet another miracle on 79th Street with Pfleger, who wore and black T-shirt with white lettering saying, “I Can’t Breathe,” his staff and those from BJ’s Market & Bakery, located at 79th and Racine,welcoming in a steady stream of very grateful people from all ages and ethnic groups.

Welcoming their guests were Pfleger,Father Thulani, their staff,  Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-16th), WVON’s Melody Spann-Cooper, Cliff Kelley, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Linda Johnson Rice, Chairman, Johnson’s Publishing, CEO,  Desiree Rogers, Terry Peterson, vice president of Government Affairs, Rush University Medical Center,Andrea Zopp who heads the Chicago Urban League, her husband, Bill Zopp, a retired federal agent, and their daughter, Alyssa Zopp, John and Hank Meyer owners of the BJ restaurants at 79th and Racine and 87thand Stony Island.

But before the mass feeding began,there was an interesting set-up period that included WVON’s Todd Ronczkowski and Gregg Baker, board tech specialists, doing prep work for the station’s live feed aired from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. They came with a huge suitcase full of wires,microphones and within minutes they had it all set up for Kelley to broadcast live at 79th and Racine. “Testing, testing,” bellowed Baker followed by WVON’s regular programing.

Next, like an opera, came the final instructions from “conductor,” Steven Jones, the manager of BJ’s 79thand Racine store, who gave a pep talk to his crew.  John Meyer said they began preparing the food two-days earlier and began cooking the food 8 a.m. Tuesday morning between the two restaurants.

Many people braved the cold and began lining up outside as early as 1:30 p.m. The doors opened at 3 p.m. and they  began coming in shaking hands with Father Pfleger and his step and graciously accepting a bag of hot baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, apple pie and a choice of can pop.

Interviewed by Kelley, Father Pfleger spoke about the national movement of a diverse group of youth who continue to protest the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown and the chokehold death of Eric Garner by white police. “I’m 65, and I have not seen this diversity since the civil rights movement,” said Pfleger referring to the protesters.

He said when he joined them on Michigan Avenue they were “Asians, black, white, Hispanics all together, and young and old, rich and poor are coming together. America had better take note,” he said.

“We’ve got to keep this issue that is going on in our country alive,” said Pfleger. “If we don’t keep it on the forefront, it will fall by the side just like the missing Nigerian girls, like the Ebola or like the missing Malaysian plane. We have to keep it out front in any way from our pulpits, from the streets, through our young people, what we wear and what we say, we have to keep the issue up front.”

Pfleger also gave a shout out for his four full-time Saint Sabina peacemakers who do intervention in the street. “They  work each day to keep the relationship with the brothers in the street.” He attributed their work to the dramatic reduction of crime in the Auburn Gresham community.

Kelley and Rhymefest interviewed Kurt;one of the peacemakers, who said Pfleger “gave us a chance…. We have to offer them (brother sin the street) hope…. He gave us an opportunity….job programs….to be a part of the solution.”

In an interview with WVON, Rice said and Rogers say it is important to “give back” in the spirit of the holiday.“There is such a need,” Rogers said referring to the people lined up all round the restaurant. Johnson said her crew is not leaving until BJ’s closes it doors. “It’s important for us to support the community” and black-owned businesses, said Rogers.

The event was sponsored by: Johnson Publishing Company, Terry Peterson, The Faith Community of Saint Sabina, WVON,the Chicago Urban League, Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-16th), BJ’s Market & Bakery and Andrea L. Zopp. Last year, they fed 2,300 people.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: